Most people in the industry have always referred to the National Asso-ciation of Master Bakers as the NA. With the organisation entering its 125th year in 2012, it looks certain to drop the ’MB’ for good in a bid to update its image. At a time where locally sourced, crafted products are in the ascendancy, how does National Association of Craft & Artisan Bakers sound?
That was the suggestion of National Doughnut Week organiser Chris Freeman, of Dunn’s of Crouch End, who proposed a name change at the recent NAMB AGM in Blackpool. "The press is all about artisan and craft in all sorts of different fields. The word ’master’ puts off some people," said Freeman, who was also chosen as president-elect. "We also have the problem when you put the words ’master’ and ’baker’ together and say them too quickly... we all know what it sounds like. We need to move away from this and project a more modern image."
While the NA consults its members over the name change, it reported back on a busy year and it has never been more active on the PR front, getting involved in a raft of television productions that are doing wonders for the profile of baking. It has also listened to members to shift the date of National Craft Bakers’ Week, which, this year, will coincide with the harvest festival.
"Following consultation with our members, this event will now take place from 19 September," said chairman Mike Holling. "The aim of the week is to allow independent craft bakers to promote themselves and make the consumers more aware, to build a customer base. We have also retained the services of Dame Kelly Holmes, who will be the face of National Craft Bakers’ Week, making that link with the Olympics."
The objectives of the week will be to:
l raise the awareness that products are baked that day
l promote craft skills
l encourage community baking and enterprise
l showcase craft foods made with passion
l support traditional values over the mass market
l and, most importantly, increase footfall into high street bakers’ shops.
Once again, there will be a co-ordinated programme of bakers going into schools and children’s visits to bakeries, so if you’d like to get involved this year, contact the NA.
Rarely has the need for the craft bakery sector to promote itself been more acute, with challenges coming from all angles. "We’re all fully aware that the economic outlook is challenging, due to the squeeze on consumer spending and the effects of high commodity prices," reflected Holling. "This coupled with extreme weather conditions in November and January make the economic recovery fragile.
"Throughout the year, the association has written to the government to promote our concerns regarding the Localism Bill, to protect the high street, where most of our members trade. We need to see the rejuvenation of the British high streets we need vibrancy and strong footfall."
There was news of a revamp of the NA website to make it more user-friendly. "A great deal of thought has gone into making it easier to navigate, to be more up-to-date, and to offer more information at your fingertips," said Holling. "It also gives us the opportunity to develop our online shop, with links to our suppliers. More importantly, we’ll be able to offer links to our bakery members’ websites, Twitter and Facebook."
With CEO Gill Brooks-Lonican set to retire next year, Holling reassured delegates that succession planning was under way. "The board are very much aware of this and are working towards a timetable of the end of 2012," he said. "As you will know, it is very difficult to replace staff with the wealth of experience that our chief executive has got. If any member has a view with regards to the job description or profile, send it to the NAMB, marked for my personal attention."
Meanwhile, treasurer Chris Beaney reported that the NA’s finances were "in a healthy condition", and subscriptions remained frozen for the fourth year. Chairman of Trustees Graham Nash urged people to make the most of an oft-overlooked resource: the NA’s Benevolent Fund: "If anyone knows of anybody in the baking trade who is in distress or in need of help, we have the funds and we are willing to look at anything. There are a lot of people out there who are a little too proud to ask for help, so please let us know."
Is bakery nutrition an oxymoron?
"We shouldn’t consider that bakery and patisserie are at the fringes of things, like five-a-day fruit and veg messages, any more," Kevin Binns of Puratos told delegates. "As an industry we’re right at the centre of this. We need to take care that we recognise that. Taste and nutrition are not mutually exclusive they go together."
He said that bakery was well placed to capitalise on digestive health trends. "I don’t believe we can do much around probiotics in bakery," he said. "But at Puratos we’re doing some research into prebiotics the functional fibres that feed the good bacteria in your gut to introduce functional fibres into bread in the next year to 18 months.
"It’s interesting for us as an industry to note that fibre is recession-proof," he added. "People understand fibre, they recognise it, put it at the top of their list and won’t forego on price."
He offered a top tip to tap into healthy product labelling by way of Weight Watchers’ recently introduced online points calculator.
"I know some retailers are using this calculator to put Weight Watchers’ points on to their packaging," he explained. "It’s not endorsed by Weight Watchers, and they say that on the packaging, but it’s a great way to inform consumers and help them with weight management. I thought that traffic light calorie labelling would put me out of job because people wouldn’t eat cake again. Actually, it had a different effect: once people understood the calories in a product, they could manage their diet around that and it didn’t do the industry any harm. Providing information is nothing to be frightened of."
"With the escalations in cost this year, it’s going to be one of our toughest years yet," said speaker John Slattery, of Slattery Patissier & Chocolatier. "We have to try very hard and we cannot rely solely on our craft skills. We need to look at what customers want from talking to them. We work on a very short development chain; we can get it in the shop the same or next day and our customers like that. We also need to learn from our competitors, the chains and supermarkets, because they spend huge amounts of money on research."
One such example is staying on-trend with products such as cupcakes. "I was very slow on the uptake with cupcakes and we didn’t start doing them until the middle of last year. I wasn’t sure it was going to last. I was wrong. We decided to make six distinct flavours, slightly bigger, between a cupcake and a muffin. They work well for us and we’re selling steadily 150 a week at £2.65, which is a good price for a bun!"
Success is all about maintaining choice in the bakery, but finding lean ways to produce a wide range of products, he urged. "It’s better to make up to quality rather than down to price," said Slattery. "We’ve created a range of 18 tarts that we make every day. We pale-bake pastry cases and, for example with a treacle tart, we make a treacle filling that keeps in the fridge for several weeks and bake it off. We may only sell three of those a day, but it’s easy to make and it has a two-day shelf-life."